PlayMakers Repertory Company’s 2014-15 main-stage season opener will be zany 65-year-old Montclair, NJ-born playwright Christopher Durang’s 2013 Tony Award®-winning comedy Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, which begins three nights previews at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 17th, and officially opens at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 20th, and runs Sept. 21 and 23-28 and Sept. 30-Oct.3, and Oct. 5 in the Paul Green Theatre in the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Center for Dramatic Art.
“It’s wonderful to work on a show where we laugh so much in rehearsal,” says guest director Libby Appel, who previously guest-directed the critically acclaimed 2009 production of The Glass Menagerie for UNC’s professional-theater-in-residence.
She recalls, “PlayMakers Repertory Company producing artistic director Joe Haj came to me with the script. In conversations with Joe, I was drawn to the play by the humor, hope, and the thought of getting to hear “Here Comes the Sun” every day in rehearsal. I have never directed this show before[, but]” she says, “I have spent a lifetime studying, translating, and directing [Russian playwright Anton] Chekhov’s plays, so when I read Durang’s version, I was delighted by his clever, funny response to Chekhov’s work.”
After premiering on Sept. 7, 2012 at the McCarter Theatre in Princeton, NJ, Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike made its Off Broadway debut on Nov. 12, 2012 at the Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater, where it closed on Jan. 20, 2013. Vanya opened on Broadway on March 14, 2013 at the John Golden Theatre, where it played 189 performances before closing on Aug 25, 2013. The show’s Broadway production received six 2013 Tony Award nominations, and won the 2013 Tony for Best Play, plus the 2013 Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Play and the 2013 New York Drama Critic’s Circle Award for Best Play.
In preshow publicity, PlayMakers Repertory Company claims, “Playwright [Christopher Durang has crafted a show for theater-lovers. Borrowing from the works of Russian master Anton Chehkov, including character names and other references to his great dramas, the comedy ‘makes heartache into fodder for belly laughs,’ according to The New York Times. [The show is] one part Chekhov, plus a heaping portion of hilarity with a dash of misery. Mix with pop culture and shake furiously with laughter for a side-splitting good time!”
Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike is “Deliriously funny! Comic acting raised to the level of high art,” added The New York Times reviewer. USA Today called the play “Hugely entertaining!” and Entertainment Weekly saluted the comedy as “Entirely, indisputably, oh-no-he-didn’t Durang!”
When the curtain rises on this award-winning comedy, says PlayMakers Rep guest director Libby Appel, “Middleaged siblings Vanya (Jeffrey Blair Cornell) and Sonia (Julia Gibson) are thrust into turmoil when their movie-star sister, Masha (Julie Fishell), returns home after many years with plans to sell their family home. The threat of losing their dear family home is not all she brings — she’s joined by her young boy toy, Spike (Christian Daly).
“Masha tries to distract her siblings by whisking them off to a costume party,” Appel says, “but her attempts are complicated by the warnings of the psychic cleaning lady, Cassandra (Kathryn Hunter-Williams). To top it all off, Spike invites the lovely girl-next-door, Nina (Arielle Yoder), to the costume party.”
Appel says, “This is a play about a dysfunctional family finding new ways to communicate and healing old wounds in the face of hardship. Even in their 50’s, they haven’t quite grown up….
“Under the surface of the play’s humor and absurdity,” claims Appel, “it is a hopeful piece. There is something remarkably encouraging about watching these characters negotiate their dysfunctional family, work through misunderstandings, and experience mid-life revelations. Even beyond the references to his plays, Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike is very Chekhovian.”
In addition to director Libby Appel and PlayMakers Repertory Company producing artistic director Joseph Haj, the creative team for Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike includes production manager Michael Rolleri, scenic designer Michael J. Dempsey, lighting designer Peter West, costume designer Jan Chambers, sound designer/engineer Robert Dagit, vocal coach John Patrick, movement coach Zachary Fine, dramaturg Adam Versényi, stage manager Sarah Smiley, and assistant stage manager Charles K. Bayang,
“[Scenic designer] Michael Dempsey created an old Pennsylvanian home with plenty of nods to the Chekhov inspirations of this play,” says director Libby Appel. “It’s important that this house feels lived in and loved — it is almost another character in the show.”
She adds, “The house moves from the living room down into the more intimate morning room, full of books, board games, childhood relics, and history. In another nod to Chekhov, Dempsey added birch branches peeking over the roof of the house.”
Appel says, “The costumes in Vanya help mark the changes in character. Even the costumes for the costume party show us a bit more about how these people are changing. They are contemporary and sometimes quite edgy….
“The play takes place over a 36-hour period in late August,” notes Appel. “The lighting helps us shift from day to night and back again, but also subtly supports the mood shifts of each scene….
“Because the show is so funny and wild,” says Libby Appel, we have been searching for the truth of this story and these characters. It is a belly-laugh comedy, but there is a deeper level that takes time to access and unlock.”
Speaking directly to PRC patrons, Appel says, “Be ready to laugh and have fun!”
NOTE: In addition to Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, PlayMakers Repertory Company’s 2014-15 main-stage season also includes Stephen Sondheim’s Tony Award-winning musical Into the Woods and William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, performed in rotating repertory Nov. 1-Dec. 7; Alice Childress’ Trouble in Mind (Jan. 21-Feb.8); Arthur Miller’s adaptation of Henrik Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People (Feb. 25-March 15); and Amy Herzog’s 4000 Miles (April 1-19).
PlayMakers Repertory Company presents VANYA AND SONIA AND MASHA AND SPIKE, at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 17-20, 2 p.m. Sept. 21, 7:30 p.m. Sept. 23-26, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Sept. 27, 2 p.m. Sept. 28, 7:30 p.m. Sept. 30-Oct. 3, and 2 and 7:30 p.m. Oct. 5 in the Paul Green Theatre in the Center for Dramatic Art, 120 Country Club Rd., Chapel Hill, NC 27514, on the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill campus.
TICKETS: $15-$45 ($10 UNC students and $12 other college students), with discounts for UNC faculty and staff and U.S. military personnel, except $15 (general admission) Tuesday Community Night performances.
BOX OFFICE: 919-962-PLAY, firstname.lastname@example.org, or http://www.playmakersrep.org/tickets/single.
GROUP RATES (15+ tickets): 919-843-2311, email@example.com, or http://www.playmakersrep.org/tickets/groupsales.
SHOW: http://www.playmakersrep.org/vanyaandsoniaandmashaandspike and https://www.facebook.com/events/699129406808612/.
NEWS RELEASE: http://uncnews.unc.edu/2014/09/08/playmakers-opens-season-sept-17-christopher-durangs-tony-award-winning-comedy/.
2014-15 SEASON: http://www.playmakersrep.org/season1415.
PRESENTER: http://www.playmakersrep.org/, https://www.facebook.com/playmakersrep, https://twitter.com/playmakersrep, and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PlayMakers_Repertory_Company.
NOTE 1: All shows are wheelchair accessible, and assistive-listening devices will be available at all performances.
NOTE 2: There will be a gala reception after the $55-per-person 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 20th.
NOTE 3: There will be FREE post-show discussions with members of the creative team following the show’s 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 24th, and 2 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 28th, performances.
NOTE 4: There will be an All-Access Performance at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 30th.
NOTE 5: There will be an Open Captioning Performance on Saturday, Sept. 27th (for more information, click http://playmakersrep.org/outreach/allaccess/opencaption).
NOTE 6: The Lucy Daniels Foundation and the North Carolina Psychoanalytic Society will sponsor FREE post-show “Mindplay” discussions after the 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 5th, performances.
Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike (2012 Off-Broadway and 2013 Broadway comedy): http://www.lortel.org/ (Internet Off-Broadway Database), http://www.ibdb.com/show.php?id=494052 (Internet Broadway Database), and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vanya_and_Sonia_and_Masha_and_Spike (Wikipedia).
Christopher Durang (Montclair, NJ-born playwright and screenwriter): http://www.christopherdurang.com/ (official website), http://www.lortel.org/ (Internet Off-Broadway Database), http://www.ibdb.com/person.php?id=4832 (Internet Broadway Database), http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0243837/ (Internet Movie Database), and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christopher_Durang (Wikipedia).
Libby Appel (PRC guest director and Oregon Shakespeare Festival artistic director emerita): http://www.playmakersrep.org/aboutus/artist.aspx?id=9eee69fc-aef4-43a3-90ba-0e9ca24be1f6 (PlayMakers Rep bio), https://www.osfashland.org/en/artist-biographies/artistic-staff/libby-appel.aspx (Oregon Shakespeare Festival bio), and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Libby_Appel (Wikipedia).
Robert W. McDowell has written articles for The News & Observer, The Raleigh Times, Spectator Magazine, CVNC, and Triangle Arts and Entertainment, all based in Raleigh. He edits and publishes two FREE weekly e-mail newsletters. Triangle Review provides comprehensive, in-depth coverage of local performing-arts events. (Start your FREE subscription by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org and typing SUBSCRIBE TR in the Subject: line.) McDowell also maintains a FREE list of movie sneak previews. (To subscribe, e-mail email@example.com and type SUBSCRIBE FFL FREE in the Subject: line.)